More than four years later. Closer to five than four. The very words I use to describe the gap after which I return to India, for a vacation.
It is a long journey, from where I reside, nestled in the temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest of America, to the subcontinent. How many thousand miles? I forget to count, as giant jet planes guzzling who knows how many hundreds of gallons carry me. Over thirty five thousand feet. Forty thousand feet. To Europe. Germany, where I find my feet on the ground between changing planes. Then onwards east. South. From cold, frigid landscapes to places, barring those with substantial gains in elevation, where summer and winter merely makes a difference in how hot and muggy it gets.
India has changed. Is changing rapidly, with a growing, booming economy. Words I hear often. In the media, from friends who made the trip earlier, between now and the time the since the boom began, soon after I left the shores of my country of birth. Of which I am still a citizen.
And what does the country of my citizenship offer me, when I return after more than four years, closer to five than four? A haze. Smoggy cityscapes in Delhi and Mumbai, where I struggle to understand if it is fog or pollution which has made things blurry. Traffic scene just as unruly as I have ever known but have, in the past several years, been reconditioned into something more orderly. Better airports in transitory states. Cleaner washrooms in the toilets (at least in Delhi), which have tissue papers, air blowers, automatic sensor flushes. Signs of a progressive economy stepping into the global scene. Massive billboards have grown like unchecked weeds along the expressway to Pune from Mumbai. They sell new homes. Real Estate industry selling promises of lush green in a world severely different from the dessicated terrain through which the highway cuts across. Through the rocky gray yellow green Deccan plateau. 2 BHK, 3 BHK. With parks, children’s play areas, club houses, in a long list of features intended to attract people with far greater spending power than before. People who are not squeamish of taking loans which they will take years and years to repay. Or maybe not, like those who are reaping the benefits of the higher pays and a booming stock market. But where is the growing, booming economy where it is most needed? I still see people scrounging for scraps in rubbish dumps, living in shanties, seeking the cover of rubble and urban waste to defecate in the open. But then, I also see the homeless with hand painted cardboard signs under expressway ramps from where I come. Perhaps the effects of this growing, booming economy are not as pervasive as they are claimed to be. Yet. How many years will it take? A question as difficult to answer as its more Epicurean counterpart: why does the mind become so easily accustomed to new order and customs, in a few years consider as foreign what has been a part of someone’s system since birth?
Knowledge and perspectives enlighten. But what is revealed is not necessarily gloriously triumphant. Bitterness goes hand in hand with truth.
So what does it feel like, when I return, after more than four years, closer to five than four? Nothing. A strange silence where I was expecting joyous uplifting trumpets. The dusty Deccan plateau does not feel like home, though that is where I had lived for years before migrating west, to temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest. I remember Bengal, where I was born, which I left behind. The lush greenery from the frame of the flight window on descent six years ago when I returned, after a shorter interval of absence from the country of my birth, whose citizenship I still possess. My joyful anticipation, the rise of an emotion I feel when dwarfed by ascending mountain peaks, by the clouds, trees and forests of a Himalayan vista. All that has become history. Soaked up by distance and time. Awaiting resurgence.